By Blake Spurney
HUTCHINSON – The second one was even sweeter for the Hesston Swathers.
“It just feels more like a state championship than last year with the COVID restrictions,” Jake Proctor said after Hesston claimed its second straight Class 3A title Saturday by downing Royal Valley, 51-41, at Hutchinson Sports Arena. “It always feels good going back-to-back.”
“It feels a lot better as a senior,” Nick Arnold said. “We’ve been dreaming of this since we were kids.”
Cason Richardson looked up at his older sisters in the stands and pointed to his knee immediately after the final whistle blew.
“I was saying back-to-back and this knee doesn’t matter,” he said. “I was saying it to both because they both know.”
Richardson missed the first part of the season while recovering from a torn anterior cruciate ligament he suffered last summer. He overcame that obstacle to lead Hesston is scoring with 36 points during the tournament.
The Swathers (25-1) met little resistance during their championship drive. The Panthers jumped out to an early 10-5 lead, but Hesston countered with a 15-2 run. Jake Proctor picked apart Royal Valley’s 1-3-1 zone by hitting a couple of three-pointers while scoring 10 of his 11 points in the first quarter. He said he knew had to put a little more distance in his shots because they came up short in the semifinal game against Thomas More Prep-Hayes.
Meanwhile, Hesston’s defenders cut off avenues for guard Nahcs Wahwassuck, who penetrated for some easy looks in the opening minutes. Ty Schroeder started off guarding him end line to end line, and Brayden Schilling rotated with him on the defensive assignment.
“It was fun,” Schroeder said. “I’m always up for the challenge of guarding the other team’s best player. We just had to adjust, play solid defense and keep him in front and stop him from going where he wanted to go.”
Head coach Greg Raleigh said the plan was to speed up the pace of the game to prevent the Panthers from walking the ball up the court. At one point, Hesston was on pace to score nearly 100 points. The pace ground to a crawl in the second quarter, during which Hesston outscored Royal Valley, 8-3. The Swathers closed the half by forcing three turnovers in the last 2-1/2 minutes.
“We just tried to play our game and keep putting the pressure on them,” Raleigh said. “The ability of keeping them from getting it inside was a big key.”
Raleigh noted that Royal Valley’s two post players, Brady Klotz and KJ Miller, both finished with four points apiece. Schilling and Richardson primarily guarded the duo.
“I would have to say, if there was defensive player of the tournament, it would be Brayden,” he said.
Schilling also led the Swathers in scoring with 13 points by having a perfect shooting day, 4-4 from the field and 5-5 from the line. He said it could be him or one of his teammates on any given night.
“It was me tonight,” he said. “Teammates were just getting me the ball in the right spots.”
Hesston kept the Panthers at a safe distance by limiting Royal Valley to one shot on most possessions and grabbing most 50-50 balls.
“I think we wanted it more,” Max Werner said. “Coach said, ‘pretend the ball is worth $1 million.’ He also said pretend it was steak.”
Richardson gave the Swathers their biggest lead, 37-18, when he scored inside with 3-1/2 minutes left to play in the third quarter. Wahwassuck started taking over on offense and the Panthers edged within 39-32 when he made a midrange jumper early in the fourth quarter. They also switched to a man-to-man defense. Raleigh called a timeout with 4:44 remaining.
Raleigh said he was comfortable throughout the game because the players had been through similar situations before.
“Just weather the storm and do what we said we were going to do,” he added.
Wahwassuck, who scored 13 of his 22 points in the fourth quarter, narrowed the gap to 44-37 with 1:41 remaining by completing a three-point play. Royal Valley was forced to foul and Schilling answered with two free throws. Wahwassuck buried a jumper and Schroeder made 1-2 free throws. After Wahwassuck made two free throws with 58 seconds remaining, Arnold missed the front end of a one-and-one. The Panthers still had a chance, but Proctor ended it by drawing a charge on Wahwassuck.
Raleigh said he thought Hesston played better against Royal Valley than it did against its other opponents. Friday against Thomas More Prep-Marian, the Swathers raced to a 20-12 lead, but the Monarchs blanked Hesston in the second quarter while scoring nine points themselves.
“That’s a first,” Raleigh said. “I don’t think I’ve ever had a high school team score zero points in a quarter. Somehow, we managed to do that.”
Hesston earned a 45-36 victory by outscoring the Monarchs 17-3 on free throws. The Swathers missed just two attempts, while Thomas More Prep missed six. Hesston defeated Hugoton, 46-34, in the first round Wednesday.
The final was the last game for seven seniors — Arnold, Schilling, Richardson, Werner, Schroeder, Matthew Waltner and Nathan Adams. Raleigh called it the deepest senior class he’d ever coached. He said the future remained bright because the junior varsity and C teams hadn’t lost a game since the senior’s first game within the program.
Wednesday, March 9
Hugoton 8 5 8 13 – 34
Hesston 9 9 12 16 – 46
Hesston scoring – Jake Proctor 13; Cason Richardson 12; Nick Arnold 9; Brayden Schilling 8; Ty Schroeder 4.
TMP-Marian 12 9 2 13 – 36
Hesston 20 0 11 14 – 45
Hesston scoring – Cason Richardson 12; Nick Arnold 10; Jake Proctor 9; Ty Schroeder and Brayden Schilling 7.
Hesston 20 8 9 14 – 51
Royal Valley 12 3 10 16 – 41
Hesston scoring – Brayden Schilling 13; Cason Richardson 12; Jake Proctor 11; Ty Schroeder 9; Nick Arnold 6.